Productivity software

The Right Office Apps for the iPad at Work, Round 2

The best word processor for the iPad

Choosing the word processor was the toughest call. Note that none of the options support revision tracking; if that's essential to your workflow, you're out of luck.

Pages. Apple's Pages is by far the most capable word processor for the iPad, with real layout controls such as the ability to designate page margins; set tabs; and add footers, headers, and images. It also has the most extensive text-formatting capabilities available, such as fonts, text size, lists, text color, line spacing, and paragraph alignment. It even spell-checks your document, highlighting potentially misspelled words; you can then have it suggest corrections by selecting the word and tapping Dictionary from the contextual menu. The search-and-replace feature also lets you constrain your actions to whole words or text with matching case, as you'd expect on the desktop. One note: If you open the Find capability from the Tools menu and don't see a field for replacement text, tap the Settings button (the gear icon) to change the mode to Find and Replace.

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You can create rich, stunning documents on the iPad with Pages -- not with all the bells and whistles available on a Mac or PC in Microsoft Word, but much more than in any other mobile word processor. It's also easy to use. However, Pages has a major flaw that could kill it as an option for many companies and two other issues you should know of in order to avoid them.

The flaw is that it doesn't retain style sheets in the documents it saves. That amounts to significant damage to the original file, and it will cause major issues if the document goes through any publishing workflow, such as for eventual HTML conversion or use in Adobe InDesign. The styles' text formatting is retained, but as local formatting only. Pages does have a styles capability that applies predefined formatting, as well as the ability to "paint" formatting from existing text, but it does not apply a style sheet that is editable by Pages or Word; the Pages "styles" are just local formatting groups.

The first issue to be aware of is that Pages doesn't work directly with cloud sharing services such as Google Docs, Dropbox, and Box.net, though you will be able to share wirelessly across your own devices using Apple's new iCloud service once that's in place later this year. If you want to share files with others, your standard options are limited to email or syncing to your computer via iTunes and sharing from there. Dropbox users have a work-around: The $5-per-month DropDAV.com service adds the CalDAV protocol to Dropbox so that Pages and the other iWork apps can exchange files with it. Box.net users also have a similar (but free) work-around: Log in from iWork apps via CalDAV using your Box.net sign-in credentials.

The second issue is a design foible: Any changes you make to a document are saved immediately in the original. You can't save the changed file later and retain the original file as is. The work-around is to make a duplicate of the file within Pages before you open it.

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Quickoffice. Quickoffice's word processor is simple, with straightforward controls for basic formatting, such as font, text size, paragraph alignment, and lists. There are no layout controls, so you can use Quickoffice only to work on text. But Quickoffice retains the style sheets in your imported documents, so they're intact when you later export a document, even though it doesn't let you create, edit, or apply styles. And this week, Quickoffice added the ability to search and replace text, with a nice interface for doing so, but unlike Pages it can't search with criteria such as case-sensitive or whole words.

Quickoffice can connect to Box.net, Dropbox, Google Docs, Huddle, and SugarSync cloud storage, as well as to a computer directly over Wi-Fi. Of course, it can also email documents, and it provides a Save As option, as well as an internal folder structure so that you can organize your documents.

DocsToGo. DataViz's app is similar to Quickoffice in terms of its capabilities: It's also a simple text editor with basic formatting options. However, DocsToGo is more sophisticated than Quickoffice, offering search and replace (with case and whole-word criteria) as well as word counting. Its cloud storage options are nearly the same; it supports all the services Quickoffice does except Huddle.

But I can't recommend DocsToGo due to a really dumb UI design: All the controls are at the bottom of the screen, where they become hidden by the on-screen keyboard. This amounts to hiding the keyboard to do any formatting each and every time -- a real productivity killer. (Pages and Quickoffice put the controls at the top of the screen.)

Soonr Workplace. The text editing features for Word files are pretty sophisticated, with spell-checking, image insertion, and table creation in addition to most of the editing and formatting tools you'd expect. What's lacking are support for styles -- both full style sheets and even "style painting" à la Pages -- and search and replace (it just searches, though it does so with options for whole words and case). Also, Soonr wipes out style sheets from your documents, rendering the files unusable in many workflows.

The verdict: It's a split decision. Pages is all around the better word processor, but its style-sheet flaw makes it unusable for many organizations. If your document workflow rests on style sheets or requires cloud storage services such as Google Docs, your best bet is Quickoffice. Soonr is useful only for editing. It's nice to have if you are using Soonr cloud storage but insufficient to be your main editing tool.

Next page: Best spreadsheet editors...

Product mentioned in this article

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  • Apple iPad 2 family

    The iPad 2 remains a solid choice, thanks to its lower price and strong app choices.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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